The world’s largest surfing wave pool has just opened in Oahu as Hawaiians continue to grapple with a water crisis

Oahu, the Hawaiian island known for some of the best surfing in the world, has a new location on its shoreline — a freshwater pool billed as “the world’s largest standing deep-water surfing wave.” But the wave pool, filled with water from the fragile aquifer, opened up amid an ongoing water crisis, angering many who say the tourist attraction is catching on while locals suffer.

Wai Kai Commercial Development announced the pool in January 2021 as part of a $40 million recreation center called The LineUp at WaiKai. The group said it’s the “world’s largest standing deep-sea surf wave” called the Wai Kai Wave — measuring 100 feet wide — and that hub also features a 52-acre recreational lagoon, each of which is “the first attractions of its kind.” become. ”

Wai Kai at Hoakalei Wave Pool Update:


Things are looking good here. We are nearly finished!

— Layton Construction (@LaytonConstruct) March 3, 2023

The wave pool at Ewa Beach holds 1.7 million gallons of fresh water — the equivalent of about 2.5 Olympic-size swimming pools. And the water for this has been drawn from the aquifer, a resource that is becoming increasingly fragile on the island as recent and widespread water pollution events and environmental issues have strained local people’s ability to access fresh water for their basic daily needs.

Shane Beschen surfing The Wai Kai Wave handout “Forever Chemicals” in the wave pool water source

Larry Caster, director of retail development at Wai Kai, told CBS News that the water in the pool is provided by the City and County of Honolulu through the Makakilo Well, which is also used to provide water to residents and businesses in the area. The decision to use this water source was made “after consultation with scientists and others”.

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And using this well just highlights a major problem that has plagued the island’s freshwater system: PFAS.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “Forever Chemicals”, are man-made chemicals that take a very long time to break down and are found in many areas of daily life, making them easy to accumulate body and environment.

These pollutants made headlines in Hawaii after it was discovered that approximately 1,100 gallons of aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) were released from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam’s Red Hill Bulk Storage Facility in November 2022, releasing excessive levels of PFAS into the environment were released area. The same reservoir, less than 20 miles away, is also the site of a massive jet fuel leak in 2021.

In February, the state Department of Health announced that at least one of thousands of these chemicals — perfluoropentanoic acid (PFPeA) — was found in the Makakilo Well water. This substance, the DOH said, is “not a regulated drinking water contaminant” and is one of several “PFAS of concern” that are widespread in the environment and warrant further investigation.

Detected PFAS in drinking water was reported to the Hawaii Department of Health on February 24, 2023. Hawaii Department of Health

They said the amount of contaminant found in the well was “far below” standards for environmental action, but those standards are set by the state, and the chemical was not included in the EPA’s recent proposal for a first-ever national limit on PFAS in drinking water.

“Although long-term consumption of drinking water containing PFAS could pose a health risk, the low levels of PFAS in the Ewa-Waianae water system do not pose an acute health threat,” the health ministry said in February. “There is no immediate need for action for the users of the system. However, sufferers can use a home filtration option to reduce PFAS.”

A spokesman for The LineUp told CBS News that the wave pool operates under the same rules as pools in Hawaii and as such is “regularly tested and treated as required by the Hawaii Department of Health and Human Services.”

They have not yet responded to CBS News’ request for the last test date and recorded PFAS levels.

“A sore spot for our community”

The Honolulu Board of Water Supply, which has raised significant concerns about the island’s water issues, approved Wai Kai Wave’s opening — but not without pause.

Ernest Lau, manager and chief engineer of the Board of Water Supply, told CBS News that the wave pool’s opening was “unfortunate,” but site officials had a long-standing water meter and the board had no guidelines for saying pools like this one are not allowed.

“The wave pool is a sore point for our community,” he said. “And we learn from that.”

With nearly 1 million people living on the island of Oahu and millions more visiting each year, conserving freshwater is vital.

“As an island nation, Hawaii has limited access to natural freshwater supplies,” the state’s Commission on Water Resource Management says on its website. “Competition for freshwater, increasing population and development pressures, growing awareness of the environment’s water needs, and the impacts of global climate change require Hawaii to become as efficient as possible in using limited freshwater supplies.”

The island has long struggled with droughts and has experienced “severe” circumstances in recent years, according to the US Geological Survey. While not currently in such conditions, 47% of the state’s streamflow locations are below normal, according to the USGS.

Lau told CBS News the wave pool is no exception to water conservation efforts.

“A lot of fresh water is used to fill the pool. And they have to change the water in the pool every five years, so a lot of fresh water is used regularly,” Lau said. He added that the developers told him using seawater or recycled wastewater instead was “not an option they could really handle.”

The Board of Water Supply has urged developers to “practice good water conservation,” Lau said, but ultimately the decision to do so is “up to them.”

However, if there is a shortage and the board imposes water restrictions, wave pool operators “like everyone else would have to limit their use,” Lau said.

The LineUp developers have a number of sustainability efforts they have or plan to implement, including plans to become a Sustainable Tourism and Outdoors Kit for Evaluation (STOKE) certified surf park. Caster said they will also be donating money to aquatic and marine life restoration programs and will not allow single-use plastics on the property.

But for local resident and water rights activist Healani Sonoda-Pale, the opening of the wave pool is “madness.”

“They are opening the largest wave pool on the island of Oahu in a water crisis,” she told CBS News. “…You’re 100 feet away from families who don’t have access to safe drinking water. And there you see the dichotomy of the rich and the have-not, how the industry will continue to suffer despite the fact that their neighbors are.”

In the nearby residential community of Kapilina Beach Homes, residents have been struggling with water pollution since jet fuel leaked into Red Hill’s water system in 2021. In November, many people still turned up there – which is about 5 miles from The LineUp showing signs of contamination according to local reports, and volunteers continue to distribute bottled water to homes each month.

A year after the Navy leaked 19,000 gallons of fuel from Red Hill, people are still dealing with contaminated water. Puna, a Kanaka Maoli single mother living at Kapilina Beach Homes with her family of 14, has reported symptoms of jet fuel exposure since moving in June 2022.

— Victims of Capitalism Memorial Foundation (@karaokecomputer) December 24, 2022

“It’s right next to a surf spot. It’s not needed,” Sonoda-Pale said of The LineUp. “It’s a waste of clean drinking water and it’s all for the tourism industry.”

Wayne Tanaka, director of the Sierra Club of Hawaii, told CBS News the wave pool was a “bizarre arrangement.”

“Using drinking water in the middle of a water crisis to support this for-profit enterprise is just another example of where Western assumptions and priorities have really overtaken the understanding that water is a precious and finite resource,” Tanaka said, “and that we must protect it and use it for the good of all and not just treat it as a commodity.”

When asked about the criticism the wave pool is facing, Caster said officials at the site are aware of “questions and confusion” over water usage. He said daily water needs will be limited to what needs to be replenished through evaporation.

“Many of our neighbors are very excited about the opening and look forward to experiencing the outdoor recreation, new restaurants, waterfront and more,” he said, adding that they will look at ways to conserve water and “best.” implement management practices wherever we can.”

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Li Cohen


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